Saturday, September 1, 2012

Harvest Time: Lavender

It’s been well established that J is the farmer in our family, responsible for such stellar harvests as our tomatoes but my success in the garden is less known. I’m the gentler gardener- interested in flowers, what smells nice and looks appealing. One of my favorite, all-purpose plants is lavender. It is lovely to look at with its soft silvery-grey leaves and delicate heads of deep purple. Despite its fragile look it’s a hardy plant as I’ve successfully grown it in the blast furnace heat and sun of Utah and in the cooler damper clime of Portland. In both places, one plant has rapidly expanded to fill a space double its original size, which may be the caveat for this lovely lady. You need to cut it back frequently as it can get leggy and scrawny looking. Aggressive clipping allows it to fill in and makes it even better looking. 

Appearance aside, lavender is also a wonderful flower for its many uses. My favorite is to dry it and create sachets or just fill bowls with the buds. If you think it sounds like a lot of work- relax. When do I ever do anything that requires extensive effort? 

If you’ve got a lavender plant and want to harvest the flowers here’s what you need to know. Wait until you have a reasonable bunch of blooming stems. When the blooms are at their peak (or a bit before) in the morning or early evening (not at any time when the sun and heat are at their peak) clip the stems you want, preferably well down the length of the stem, both to help with hanging and to help with regrowth as mentioned above. You want the blooms that are not faded. A bit older is all right but oftentimes these dry out too quickly and the stems break making a mess when you’re removing the buds. 

Once you’ve gotten a good sized bunch, using any kind of binding material (rubber bands, florists wire, twist ties, twine) tightly bind the stems close to the bottom of the bunch. Then, part one of the delight of lavender begins- picking a place to hang it. I often opt for a closet as the air will be gently scented via the drying process but if you have a hanging rack or rod in your laundry room that’s also a good idea. The process will take about 2-3 weeks depending on where you live. Portland in the rain? Give it a month. Colorado in the summer? 4 days. You can test dryness by rubbing your finger along a stem. If the buds flake off easily, it’s ready. 
New bunch from today, hanging out with my winter clothes

This bunch is dried but the color is still so vibrant! Note the high tech rubber band and wire hanger. I AM McGyver.
Find a clean flat surface and a container to put the buds in. Taking a stalk gently rub it between your fingers. The buds should start coming off without breaking the stalk. You can also do more than one stalk at a time. You won’t want or need to rub too hard as they should separate and you don’t want the stalks to break/crumble. For me, this is an old-fashioned time. I’m harvesting something from nature and there’s no rushing. The lovely scent of lavender fills the air and scents my fingertips. Quiet pleasure. 

Once you’ve got enough buds you can either put them in decorative bowls in rooms where you’re looking for peaceful calm or that get musty and need freshening. You can also put them in small fabric bags (make them if you’re inclined or they carry them at Joann Fabrics) and put them in drawers. I like them in the linen closet between folded sheets. 
Lavender is both soothing and calming so keeping it near your bed is a natural way to promote good sleep. This lovely glass dish belonged to my grandmother so it's even more meaningful.

With a minimum of effort, you can lightly scent your home. You can also cut bunches and bring them inside as a bouquet. They’re not the showiest flowers in the garden but lavender rewards in so many ways.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

I was in choir during college, and we had to sing "Won't You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender" one semester. I frigging hated that song. I took it out on lavender, but perhaps that wasn't fair. If it really helps promote sleep, maybe I need to give it another chance. But it reminds me of that damn song.

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